I’m so sick and tired of dealing with people who wrap themselves in the American Flag, and then utter complete nonsense or worse, and really hurt small businesses with their outlandish and unfair reviews, claiming the First Amendment protects them from whatever they say.
The fact of the matter is, the First Amendment protects freedom of expression from government interference. It’s a very complicated area of law, believe it or not. But, what’s been established time and again, is that the First Amendment is limited when applied to commercial speech and private speech.
You are not allowed to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, for example.
You are certainly entitled to your opinions, but you are not entitled to false statements concerning a person or a business that damages their reputation.
This is where many consumers simply don’t understand the law, and end up leaving reviews that can be legally actionable. Specifically, when leaving a review, you cannot:
- … make false statements of material fact regarding a business
- … ask your family and friends to leave a negative review for a product or service, when they themselves have not purchased said product or service
- … allege criminal activity or behavior as against someone else (i.e. claiming something is a “scam” is alleging fraudulent behavior which is a criminal activity)
Pseudo-Anonymity, and the False Belief a False Persona Permits Bad Behavior on the Internet
Here at Law 4 Small Business, we help a lot of business owners protect themselves and their families by forming businesses entities anonymously. Learn more about our Anonymous LLC offerings.
Anonymity can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing. It’s a good thing, when used for protection and privacy. It’s a bad thing when used in an attempt to conduct illegal, criminal, abusive or other harmful activity.
The truth is, it’s very difficult to be anonymous on the Internet, especially when leaving bad reviews. As a law firm, if we file a lawsuit, we can use the power of the courts to subpoena just about anyone. This includes firms like Protonmail, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Comcast and everyone else. Email providers, Internet Service Providers, credit card companies, merchant account companies, cell phone companies and you name it. This means we can follow the chain from one provider to another, until we find exactly where and how you get onto the Internet. Then, your anonymity is broken.
Therefore, if you’re one of those people who think you’re so clever to maintain a false, fake or pseudo persona on the Internet, and then hide behind that persona to leave bad reviews that are actionable, I have some advice for you: be careful. You might end up attacking a business that has the wherewithal and resources to hire us, and go after you.
Small Businesses Rely on Reviews, and It’s Important They are Fair and Accurate
Small businesses are run by mothers, grandmothers, fathers, sons, daughters, military veterans, former police officers, former teachers, people with disabilities, and more. They cannot always afford to refund money for a product or service you purchased, simply because you didn’t like the product or service. They may not always be able to change things at a moment’s notice, without an advanced request from you.
These small businesses may have policies, terms of service, operating procedures or other rules to help ensure a consistent offering, to keep others safe, or simply to help manage operating expenses. This doesn’t mean their business practices are shady, fraudulent or a scam.
It’s certainly okay to disagree with how a small business does things, and it’s certainly okay to leave a negative review if you have actual concerns about the product or service. It’s not okay to make conclusory statements about the product or service that could be false or imply criminality. It’s okay to say, “I feel the product (or service) is inferior, and I will not go to this business again.” It’s not okay to say, “This business is a scam, their product (or service) is defective.”
Be careful in your word choices, and more importantly, don’t forget about all those businesses that you do frequent and do like. Have you given them a positive review lately?